JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Poached barley with herbs

I had a hard time knowing what to call this ... poached barley seems to be the best description, but it could just as easily have been barley risotto. This is a fabulous wholefood accompaniment to lamb stew (I made one last night with the end of a joint of lamb from the weekend, with three times as much onion as meat). It's also good alone, if you make it with good stock.

Now I don't know about you, but I have a bit of a horror of the idea of wholefoods as a concept. It puts me in mind of the 70s - brown food and unkempt beards. And yet I love many of the ingredients that are covered by the word wholefood.

Barley is a case in point - it's one of those underrated ingredients that tend to be ignored by most of us. Certainly it's years since I've cooked it. At school we were given a rather grey lamb stew made with scrag end of neck eked out with lots of flabby barley. (Why did they call it pearl barley?) So, above all, I wanted to avoid overcooking it. And even though it's about as cheap as food gets, I wanted to treat it with care and attention. I've overcome the brown look, taste and texture by chopping in a huge handful of herbs at the end ... yum.

Poached barley with herbs

Pearl barley
Marsala or other wine
A big handful of herbs

I used a handful of barley per person (it enlarges with cooking, but not alarmingly so), then stirred it around my risotto pan in a little olive oil, exactly as if I was making risotto. When it was nearly sticking, I splashed in a glug of Marsala to loosen it. Then chicken stock to cover. I simmered this for half an hour, without covering, and stirred it from time to time, although no need to stand close by as if making risotto. I topped up the stock after a while, but this is emphatically not a little-and-often topping up as for risotto - this is more of an oops, should have put in more in the first place.

After half an hour, I took it off the heat and let it stand for nearly an hour. I did this mainly for my own convenience, but it had the effect of allowing the grains to absorb more stock without overcooking. Then I reheated it for 10-15 minutes. At this point I chopped in a huge handful of chopped herbs, what I could find in the garden ... parsley, sage, tarragon, a tiny bit of oregano, chives. Rosemary would have been good too, but I didn't think of it as I passed the bush.

Really good; springy grains sweet with the flavours of the stock and the wine, given piquancy by the last of the summer herbs.


Kate said...

i have a feeling i'm going to love this dish , barley would go very well with red meat. I've never tried cooking it this way ...but there's always a first time :)

katiez said...

I really like barley, but other than tossing it in soups I never think to use it! Great idea!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

The only problem I have with doing that go into the garden and pick whatever pops up is when I get a dish like this that I love and want to do again, I can never replicate that exact mix. Rosemary would be good also. Love barley and I don't think to use it nearly enough. That is a really good trick to let things sit and absorb flavoring.

Magic Cochin said...

I love the texture of barley (though the OH isn't keen). There seems to be quite a variation of whole barley grains (lots of info here apparently "pearl" barley has been extra polished which means that more of the nutritional bran layer has been removed and "pot" barley is less processed but will take longer to cook. I'll have to check which sort I've got in the cupboard.

Thanks for another good tasty recipe idea Joanna.


KJ said...

I have never cooked barley. I guess I have never known what to do with it. Maybe it's time I branched out a little bit. Thanks for a great idea.

Ed Bruske said...

Barley is wonderful prepared this way. Whole Foods now sells, "hulled barley," which has more of the bran on it that the polished "pearled barley" you typically see in the grocery.

Figs Olives Wine said...

What a fabulous accompaniment to stew! I make a barley salad, and this looks right up our alley, so thank you! It's the cool weather version!